Capillary Action So Embarrassing

[Pangaea; 2007]

Styles: prog rock, math rock, metal
Others: Mr. Bungle, Mike Patton, Extra Life

A lot of erudite rockers sound like David Longstreth these days, and Capillary Action’s Jonathan Pfeffer is no exception. But that’s not a bad thing, because the world could do with many more tasteful virtuosos. Although far from The Dirty Projectors in delivery, Capillary Action’s second album, So Embarrassing, walks the line between good songwriting and good noise, and, even at its most raucous, it's more enjoyable than one would first imagine.

Highlights include “Elevator Fuck” and “Paperweights,” which are not coincidentally the thinnest texturally on the album. The former sounds like an unreleased Stereolab B-side for which Björk wrote string parts, while the latter’s Latin harmonies are carried by Pfeffer’s best vocal performance on the album. These two tracks are especially inspiring examples of how polyrhythm and dissonance can synthesize intense emotion and aren’t forced in their musical intelligence.

Like any band unafraid to flex their chops, however, Capillary Action occasionally forego song structure in favor of progressive rock’s biggest follies: those random swing or metal sections that do nothing to advance the composition. But these pieces, such as “Pocket Protection Is Essential,” are forgivable in comparison to the whole album. Between the beautiful songs and prog clichés come tracks like “Father of Mine,” which jumps between grandiose strings and empty space on a dime. “Father of Mine” may be the epitomical Capillary Action song, with congruence, dissonance, and an unforeseeable turn into the next track. That this approach has been tried again and again is admirably not a barrier for Pfeffer, whose focus on original album structure is visible only after repeated listens.

Pfeffer’s textural composing is as developed as it is scholarly, but this may or may not suit your tastes. And Capillary Action could benefit from a stronger sense of melody; the melodies on this album are often forgettable over the frequently ingenious backgrounds. While Pfeffer’s lyrics are engaging, they're sometimes inaccessible in delivery. Despite this, So Embarrassing is an interesting personal take on prog rock’s roots, and therefore quite a step in the right direction.

[Full disclosure: Jonathan Pfeffer is a former TMT contributor.]

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